Where The Art of War by Sun Tzu is an overview and basically a textbook on the subject, and the 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking by way of a number of maxims, the 48 Laws of Power is more focused on the psychology of personal interaction; what Greene calls "Power".
Greene illustrates each of the "Laws" with example drawn from both Eastern and Western history and literature. Among my favorite examples are those of famous con-men and con-jobs, such as the swindler who posed as an official of the French government and sold the Eiffel Tower to a scrap dealer. Green also includes counter examples for most of the Laws depicting situations where the Law simply wouldn't work, or a reversal of the Law would be more in order.
Below is an extract from a book review a friend sent me. The whole review may be read here.
American Apparel's in-house guru shows a lighter side
'48 Laws' author Robert Greene acts as chief Dov Charney's informal older brother, preaching 'crush your enemy' but practicing tolerance. His books are big with rappers, executives and prison inmates.
When author Robert Greene wrote his bestselling book "The 48 Laws of Power," his win-at-all-costs message turned him into a cult hero with the hip-hop set, Hollywood elite and prison inmates alike.
Crush your enemy totally, he wrote in Law 15. Play a sucker to catch a sucker, he said in another. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
Greene's warrior-like take on the quest for power, written more than a decade ago, would eventually attract another devotee: Dov Charney, the provocative and sometimes impish chief executive of Los Angeles clothing company American Apparel Inc.
The 52-year-old Greene — a former screenwriter who speaks five languages and worked 80 jobs before writing "The 48 Laws" — has become Charney's guru, a trusted confidant to the 42-year-old entrepreneur and, insiders say, a voice of reason on American Apparel's board of directors.
"There's definitely an older-brother, younger-brother dynamic," said Allan Mayer, a public relations man and fellow board member. "Dov is a very brilliant, creative guy and he can also be mercurial and very impulsive, which are excellent qualities, but sometimes he needs to be reined in. If Robert says,
'Well, hold on, buddy,' Dov generally will."
Charney refers to his close friend alternately as a genius, El Señor and Jesus. The American Apparel founder says he was hooked on "The 48 Laws" the moment he opened its burnt orange cover, with its straightforward philosophies of Machiavelli, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and others. He's handed out hundreds of copies to friends and employees, and readily quotes the laws during board meetings.
One of Charney's favorites: "Enter action with boldness" — Law 28.
"Everybody practices it every day," he said of the book's principles during a recent dinner of Korean barbecue and beer with Greene in downtown Los Angeles. "These are the rules that govern human interactions.... Robert's book is as much a documentation of your flaws — you just score yourself on each one."